ROME: Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi told 500 paid hostesses attending a lecture in Rome that Europe should convert to Islam and gave each of them a copy of the Koran, the Italian press reported on Monday.
Kadhafi told the young women, hired by an agency and paid 70 or 80 euros (90 or 100 dollars) to attend the religious lecture on Sunday, that "Islam should become the religion of all of Europe and that Mohammed was the last prophet," one of the women said, daily La Stampa reported.
"Kadhafi didn’t even know we were being paid, otherwise he wouldn’t have accepted to meet us. For us it was only boring," a 25-year-old woman told daily La Repubblica under condition of anonymity.
The agency recruiting the young women, mainly students who hire themselves out for advertising of publicity events, said it would not pay girls who gave their names to the press. It also told them to dress conservatively for the lecture.
Kadhafi landed in Italy on Sunday to mark the second anniversary of a friendship treaty signed with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that drew a line under the countries’ bitter colonial-era relationship.
He gave a similar address to a paid audience of 200 women during a previous visit to Italy in November last year.
Sunday’s show was "a new, humiliating violation of Italian women’s dignity," opposition lawmaker and former health minister Rosy Bindi said.
"Instead of asking him about thousands of migrants’ living conditions, the Berlusconi government offered a stage to someone who wants to be surrounded by pretty girls while doing propaganda," she said.
Kadhafi’s show also caused discomfort within the coalition of Berlusconi, a close ally of the Libyan leader.
"Kadhafi’s words show his dangerous Islamisation project for Europe," said European MP Mario Borghezio of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, an ally of Berlusconi, according to Il Messaggero.
Ties between Italy and its former colony have deepened since the signing of the accord with Italy now the third largest European investor in the North African country.
Italy and Libya also reached an agreement that allows the Italian navy to intercept illegal migrants at sea and return them to Libya, triggering sharp criticism from the United Nations’ refugee agency and human rights groups.
To mark the anniversary, Kadhafi and Berlusconi are due Monday to tour a photography exhibition tracing the history of the Italian-Libyan relationship, including the bloody colonial period, officials said.
They are also expected to be among around 800 spectators at an equestrian show at the Tor di Quinto cavalry school in the north of the capital.
The Libyan colonel brought with him for the occasion 30 thoroughbred Berber horses and their riders, who flew in on a special plane.
He and Berlusconi are also expected to share iftar, to meal breaking the day’s fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Kadhafi travelled, as usual, with a Bedouin tent for his accommodation which is to be pitched in the gardens of the residence of the Libyan embassy in Rome.